Philosophy Compass 16 (5):e12732 (2021)

Thomas Pölzler
University of Graz
In answering normative questions, researchers sometimes appeal to the concept of basic needs. Their guiding idea is that our first priority should be to ensure that everybody is able to meet these needs—to have enough in terms of food, water, shelter, and so on. This article provides an opinionated overview of basic needs in normative contexts. Any basic needs theory must answer three questions: (1) What are basic needs? (2) To what extent do basic needs generate reasons for action and how are these reasons to be understood? (3) How are basic needs and their satisfaction to be measured? I address these questions in turn. Then I also briefly discuss the theoretical potential of appealing to basic needs in normative contexts. It turns out that future research in this area could benefit from a higher degree of interdisciplinarity and methodological reflection, and that, generally speaking, basic needs theories are more promising than they have often been claimed to be.
Keywords basic needs  normative theory  social minimum  justice  capabilities
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DOI 10.1111/phc3.12732
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